Cut in council tax support increases court actions against poor households

By agency reporter
April 9, 2015

New research published by False Economy, the Trades Union Congress (TUC) backed anti-cuts campaign website, has uncovered a huge surge in low-income families being summoned to court for non-payment of council tax.

The research finds that there has been an annual increase of more than 500,000 court summonses in England, largely driven by low income working-age households affected by a £490 million cut to council tax support. (2013/14).

One in seven local authorities are set to further increase the size of cut to council tax support in the new tax year, which commenced on 6 April.

This will subject many of the poorest families to even higher council tax demands, which the TUC believes will result in the numbers summoned to court continuing to grow.

The council tax support scheme (CTS) was introduced in 2013/14 in England to replace council tax benefit (CTB). The change included a 10 per cent cut to central government funding of the scheme. The majority of local authorities have passed the cut on to claimants in the form of a minimum council tax payment requirement for working-age households, regardless of whether or not they are in paid work. Only a small minority of local authorities kept full council tax support in place for those on low incomes.

According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, around 2.5 million low income households were hit by the resulting council tax rises in the first year of the minimum payment schemes.

The research by False Economy found that in local authorities with minimum payments, court summonses for non-payment of council tax increased by 30 per cent. But the increase was only nine per cent in local authorities that still provided support for the full council tax bill.

The research also found that CTS qualifying households subject to the new minimum payment rules accounted for 58 per cent of the net increase in court summonses from 2013 to 2014. And this is despite the fact that they are only around 11 per cent of all council tax liable households.

The freedom of information requests also revealed that the use of direct deductions from benefits and earnings, as well as the use of bailiffs, is now very widespread as a consequence of the liability orders the courts are issuing. The TUC is concerned that this is likely to be pushing families into severe poverty.

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Slashing council tax support has been one of the government’s cruellest cuts. It was foolish for ministers to think that families who can’t afford to heat their homes can pay new tax bills for hundreds of pounds. And it is heartless for them to stand by as the poorest families are hauled through the courts and harassed by bailiffs.

“If anyone is to be hit with higher taxes it should be the fat cats in the boardrooms and those corporations that are dodging paying their fair share, not the poorest working-age households in the UK.”

A False Economy spokesperson said: “Council tax support cuts have caused chaos for families and households, and also for councils. They are leaving people out of pocket and in debt, which is also bad for local businesses that depend on them as customers.

“Councils are now pursuing people through the courts for money they do not have. It is a shambles made by a cabinet of millionaires in a government that has been completely out of touch with reality.”

* More information about the changes and their financial impact can be found at http://www.ifs.org.uk/comms/r90.pdf

* False Economy http://falseeconomy.org.uk/
* TUC https://www.tuc.org.uk/

[Ekk/4]

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